The week before Easter, a young man and his mother were sitting in the pew in front of me at church. The young man sat, very sullenly, with his ball cap pulled down low over his eyes, and his arms folded across his chest. His mom, beside him stood and participated in the service. She was there to worship, and it seemed he wanted to make it clear that he was only there because she wanted him to be. I remember thinking that he was being disrespectful to his mother; that if nothing else he was reflecting poorly on her and the things she felt were important. It seemed like maybe I should lean forward and tell him that he needed to be mindful and at least act like he was participating. While I watched him though, I noticed that his eyes were open. If he wasn't sleeping, then he was at least hearing. His mother was quietly witnessing to him by making sure that he was there to hear the message. Maybe the important thing was that he was at least here, and he should be allowed to come to that message in his own way rather than to adhere to mine.
This week, I wore a hat to service. I made a conscious decision to do this because I'm letting my hair grow out, and it's in that in between stage where it starts looking bad because there's nothing to control it. It didn't seem like a big deal, because at least all my clothes were clean, and my appearance was between me and J.C. A man came up to me just before the beginning of service, and told me (told me) that it was disrespectful to wear a hat here, and asked that I remove it... This stirred up a few things inside of me, and I would like to talk about it a little bit.
First it made me feel unwelcome, which caused a downward domino effect. J.C. said to go out and make Christians. Not Methodists, not Catholics, not people who don't wear hats to church. Make Christians, and making anybody feel unwelcome goes a long way towards defeating that purpose. I didn't want to sigh the guest book. I didn't want to give my tithe. I didn't want to come back. I spent the entire service thinking about him, instead of being present, where I was. Spending time with God. He may as well have asked me to leave, because I wasn't there anyway.
I wanted to wear my hat to service again next week. To actively disrespect the man.
Maybe that's one of those instances where we ignore God's soft voice so that we can get our own way. Whether I wear a hat in church is between me and J.C., and not me and some guy. I actively decided to wear it. It's possible that this man telling me that it is disrespectful is Gods way of letting me know that he thinks it is too. Or...
He could be telling me through this experience that I did the right thing by not stepping in with that boy a couple of weeks ago. Maybe it was His way of saying that I should let Him speak to th this young man with out my being a distraction. It could be that the best way to witness for God is to step back, and to watch and witness.
Or maybe there's a better way... Sometimes the Big Guy can be difficult and makes us figure things out on our own. After the service, as Abby and I were getting in the car to come home, the guy came up to me in the parking lot. He told me that he was sorry if he offended me, and that it is just the way he was raised, and something that was further ingrained by military service. (For the record this is true for me as well, and 90% of the time this situation would never have presented itself.) I told him I understand, and I appreciate that he felt it was important to talk to me, but that kind of approach will always leave one person on the defensive and become a conflict. I told him my story of the boy from a couple of weeks ago, and commented that there had to be a better way to go about it.
I don't know how he could have asked me to take my hat off without me feeling like I didn't belong. I don't think that was the point that was being made though. Two weeks ago, instead of worrying that that young man was being sullen, or disrespectful, I should have made a point to say "Welcome" and "I'm glad to see you here today". This seems silly maybe, but sometimes it's the silly little things that make the biggest difference.
It's okay to get upset with the man for handling a situation that he thought was important badly. That doesn't make it the church's fault, and doesn't mean I'm not welcome. Every week we recite the Lords Prayer, and ask him to forgive us our trespasses, and he does. Part of the deal there though, is that we also need to forgive those who trespass against us.
Until next time, take care and be good.